What a difference a few weeks can make in football. Unai Emery has gone from zero to hero to zero again at Paris Saint-Germain, all because of two pivotal Champions’ League games against FC Barcelona.
I wonder if they would like him to replace Luis Enrique now?
The ecstasy that came with that 4-0 win at the Parc des Princes, a sign that they had finally arrived on the big stage, vanished in one hot flash on Wednesday evening in the Camp Nou. The team filled with international stars crumbled under a combination of fear and inexperience, something that the manager has to take a large part of the blame for.
He set his team up to defend deep, allowing pressure to build until they eventually folded like a pyramid of cards. The fact is that Barcelona barely had to break a sweat to win, despite the excellence of a Neymar’s free-kick and the dubious award of the second penalty, it was PSG that beat PSG.
That was the former Sevilla manager’s remit already failed, one stage earlier than Laurent Blanc, who was fired for such a performance. That alone should cost Emery his job.
However, when you combine that with PSG’s league form, Emery has not got a leg to stand on.
It started with the 3-1 loss away from home to current leaders Monaco. Early into Emery’s reign that had begun in unconvincing fashion, Leonardo Jardim put on a tactical masterclass as his side outfought, out thought and out did PSG for an entire 90-minute spell.
That was followed by a number of personnel and formation switches as he hastily attempted to cobble together his own identity. After one poor performance against Bastia, the 4-2-3-2 that looked slick against Lyon in the Trophée des Champions was binned for the traditional 4-3-3, which led to another period where they couldn’t find the best combination in midfield.
The club recovered to push towards the top but a three-game dip in December put another spanner in the works. They were beaten 3-0 against Montpellier, who simply countered them to victory, before a 1-1 draw at home to then table-toppers Nice and then came another tough loss on the road to Guingamp.
The real watershed moment for this team was the return fixture against title rivals Monaco, a game in which a victory could have significantly revitalised their title chances while also taking points off their opponents. What actually transpired was a negative, timid side that snatched the lead before they were deservedly pegged back late on, handing the advantage to the principality club.
For the first time in a very long time, PSG look afraid.
The other domestic competitions have been a formality, other than a tricky pitch against Niort. That’s likely to continue, with Avranches in the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France but should they fall to Monaco in the Coupe de la Ligue final on April 1st, then there’s no reason that Nasser Al-Khelaifi should stick by the Spaniard any longer.
The signings have also been poor, discounting the January moves that are still settling in and Thomas Meurnier who has impressed. Hatem Ben Arfa has been shunned into the background, they simply gave up on Jesé Rodriguez after a few games and Grzegorz Krychowiak is a shadow of the stalwart that was so often on display in Seville.
So, what has Emery actually done this season? He changed the formation briefly, has bowed to pressure from his senior players only for them to let him down when they need him. When you stagnate in football, you start heading backwards and that’s exactly what is happening with the Parisians right now.
In the end, the owner has backed himself into a corner. Having sacrificed Laurent Blanc for less, he cannot stand by a man that has given him much less than he gambled for.
The club wanted to become a force in the Champions’ League while maintaining domestic dominance. Instead, Emery has failed at an earlier stage than his predecessor in Europe and their stranglehold over Ligue 1 has been loosened significantly.
Once that’s combined with the most humiliating defeat in the club’s recent history, there can be no argument. The Spaniard’s short spell in the French capital is coming to an abrupt, inharmonious close.